Raymond van Barneveld: What can I say of my year? It has been a disaster... and that's why I'm giving up

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Away from the dartboard, Raymond van Barneveld has found happiness but, on the oche, he is a tortured soul.

The five-time world champion, 52, has found love with a Londoner, Julia, who works as a station supervisor on the Underground, while still going through a messy divorce and his unlikely preparations for his final World Championship have included taking in the Tutankhamun exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery.

But any sense that Alexandra Palace will provide the sort of fairytale finish to one of the most colourful figures to have graced the game dissipated long ago in his mind.

“It’s not realistic to say I’m going to lift this trophy,” he told Standard Sport, talking in a London bar. “It would be the biggest day of my life if I do, but it’s so hard.

"Look at Phil Taylor, in his final year he won the Matchplay and was in the World Championship Final. Wow, what a year to say goodbye.

“What can I say of my year? It’s been one big disaster. In terms of the darts, it couldn’t have been worse. And the darts affects life, too.

“I can have good games and suddenly nothing, and this is the reason I’m giving up. I don’t feel right. Some days I feel fantastic, other days I feel like an 85-year-old, with stress and nerves coming in and suddenly I’m nothing like the Ray of a day or two ago.”

Van Barneveld is set to retire after the World Championships (Getty Images)

Van Barneveld is polite and engaging in conversation, but a shadow of the figure who would whip up the ‘Barney Army’, thousands of Dutchmen decked in orange as he graced the biggest stage.

It’s hard to listen as he repeatedly talks himself down, almost as though when defeat finally comes at Ally Pally it will do so with a sense of relief.

“It’s a decision I made so I don’t have to have the pain anymore,” he said. “There is just too much pain.

“Every week you lose and have to handle defeat.”

Speaking five years after his last major tournament win, the Premier League Darts in 2014, he added: “Winning is the best medicine and it never gets boring — just ask Michael van Gerwen. If you don’t win anymore and it’s five years on the spin, you have to look in the mirror and say, ‘This is enough’.

“I’m a natural-born winner and, if I don’t win, I feel ashamed, I feel like a really good friend or family member is passing away. And I have those emotions in my system the whole time.

“If you have that every single week for months and years running, you start getting depressed.

“It’s no good people saying, ‘Ray, you’ve had a marvellous career’, as you want to do it now. You don’t want to be forgotten and, at the end of the day, five world titles are just statistics. You want to live in the now and lift trophies now.”

Not even reeling off the past title ­triumphs — the four BDO crowns and his PDC world title win in that epic 2007 final against Taylor — helps in any way.

“People say, ‘Ray, you’re so hard on yourself’,” he said. “People maybe remember I had five world titles, but they also forget I lost in three finals, and losing is not good because, as a society, we’re all busy winning.

“When I came back to my house in 2007 after that epic final, there were hundreds of people in my street, they were selling French fries and a band was playing music, everyone came.

"Two years later as the runner-up, I drove the same lane and no one was there, no one. So people say it’s okay to lose, but it’s nothing."

In happier times: Van Barneveld after winning the World Championship in 2007 (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

The one chink of light is his love life having met Julia via a chance exchange on Instagram, a love story for the social media age. “She responded to a picture on Instagram, we got talking and she came to an exhibition in Southampton,” he said. “It’s been a year now and I’m really happy, I’m over the moon with her — I couldn’t be happier.

“So I spend a lot of time in London. We like history, shopping, food, we like all the things in the city.

“She has a responsible job and I’m proud of her. We went to the Tutankhamun exhibition, the Tower of London and I’m keen to see Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.”

As for the darts, it long ago became less a passion for Van Barneveld and merely a job, now one that increasingly is dragging him down.

As he puts it: “I don’t enjoy it anymore, I see it as pressure, I see it as work.”

The only hope is that when his Ally Pally run comes to an end, he finally feels free.

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